TERRE HAUTE —
Just two years ago, Greggmar Swift graduated from high school at the Lodge Secondary School, the site of a former Barbados plantation home which sits atop a hill and is surrounded by fields of sugar cane.
Several of Swift’s close friends in Barbados now represent the small Caribbean island nation on the country’s cricket team, that sport being the most celebrated in the country, said Swift, who instead put his focus on the challenge of running track and field in his youth.
“I first set foot on a track at age six,” he said. “I was not real fast. I was at the back, but I was a determined young child.”
That determination led Swift to become one of the top junior hurdlers in the world by the time he was late into his teenage years. In the summer of 2010, after having already signed to a scholarship with Indiana State, Swift ran one of the fastest junior times in the world at the World Junior Championships.
Now Swift will be the first Indiana State athlete to compete in the Summer Olympics since Larry Bird suited up for the Dream Team in 1992. Former ISU track athlete Bryan Leturgez competed in the Winter Olympics in bobsled in 1998, 1994 and 1992.
“He ran faster than anyone we could have recruited out of Indiana or Illinois,” Indiana State men’s track and field coach John McNichols said. “He was already an elite hurdler.”
Now 21 years old, Swift was 10th at the NCAA meet with a time of 13.60 seconds after running 13.55 in an earlier heat, ranking him behind two former NCAA champions as the third best time in ISU history.
More importantly perhaps, the performance springboarded Swift into the Olympic Trials, where he would need to run a 13.52 to hit the Olympic “A” standard.
On June 23, Swift was just fast enough, running a 13.52 and edging countryman Shane Braithwaite, who had outrun Swift at the NCAA Championships.
“That was when I saw my Olympic dream coming to the forefront,” Swift said.
McNichols traveled to help his young athlete prepare for the race, while also having the opportunity to see where Swift grew up and meet the people that support him, including his mother Margaret Eastmond.
“It’s a small enough country that most people knew he was a hurdler and knew what he had to do. The other two had already hit the standard. Greggmar had to run a big race,” McNichols said.
Swift is one of three who will represent Barbados in London at the Olympic Games, joining nations such as the United States, Germany, China, Great Britain and France with three competitors in the 110-meter hurdles.
“For being such a small country, they’re in good company,” McNichols said.
Ryan Brathwaite is the 2009 World Champion in the event — and probably Barbados’ best hope for a medal in London — and Shane Brathwaite finished up an All-American career at Texas Tech.
“The rivalry between us is great, none of us like to be beat by the other,” Swift said. “The three of us created history when we all made it. It’s usually just one person and we have three.”
Swift arrived Tuesday in the Olympic Village but left Friday for Belgium, where he will run one last preparatory race. Earlier this summer, Swift ran a 13.54 in Mexico at a 23-and-under competition, bringing home a bronze medal for Barbados.
“I just want to race well at Belgium and take the momentum to the Olympic Games,” Swift said. “I don’t have any pressure on me. My coach and myself, we all know what I’m capable of. We’ll just go to the Olympics and show them what Indiana State stands for.”
The Missouri Valley Conference champion was expected to be one of the favorites in the race at Belgium in preparation for competition in London.
“Every race since conference meet, he’s been against world-class or national class competition. Nice to go into situation where he can focus on what he needs to work on. He’s been racing for his life,” said McNichols, who enjoyed the chance to visit the eastern Caribbean nation with his wife Linda.
“We got the Greggmar tour: ‘This is where I went to school. This is where we go to the beach.’ Very interesting. Got to know a lot more about him. Got to meet his closest friends. He picks his friends closely,” McNichols said.
Indiana State assistant coach Jeff Martin made first contact with Swift in 2009 after getting a tip about him from Sycamore triple jumper Ernest Rollins, who also hails from Barbados.
Swift was contacted by many bigger track programs, he said, but he was attracted to Indiana State because of McNichols’ vast experience with hurdles instruction. McNichols became the chair of hurdle development for USA Men’s Track and Field in 2000. McNichols coached Chris Lancaster to an NCAA hurdles title in 1990 and Aubrey Herring to the NCAA title in the 110 hurdles in 2000.
“I think they did some checking. What helped us land him was my years of working with our elite hurdlers. Their leadership there were comfortable with that,” McNichols said.
Swift will compete Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 10:10 a.m. in London, which is 4:10 a.m. in Terre Haute.